In an era when people empowered by technology demand transparency and accountability from public institutions, foreign assistance must keep pace with trends toward greater openness and participation. After all, millions of dollars are at stake, and decisions concerning the allocation of those resources impact communities across the globe. Because assistance is important to our values, national security, and economic and human advancement, it is important that we get it right and make it as effective as possible.
This week was one of the rare moments when aid effectiveness was given the attention it deserves, with President Obama recommitting to an aid agenda that pulls people out of poverty and breaks dependency in his remarks at the United Nations General Assembly, as well as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney presenting his policies for making assistance more effective at the Clinton Global Initiative. And new tools like the Publish What You Fund 2012 Aid Transparency Index -- a report card assessing the extent to which key aid donors make public data on their assistance programs -- help ensure that the U.S. and other aid donors follow through on their promises to make assistance more transparent.
Making data and information on assistance programs available has multiple benefits -- it provides citizens with the information that allows them to hold government and other relevant institutions accountable (in both aid receiving and aid providing countries); facilitates collaboration among donors; allows a recipient government to factor aid flows into budgets and program planning. Transparent and consultative policy making contributes to better-informed citizens, more informed and supported policies, and more accountable government. Bringing government and citizens into open forums to discuss and commit to transparent, open government procedures allows the committed to exchange experiences and practices and puts pressure on the reluctant to shape up.
How does the United States measure up to other nations in advancing the transparency agenda? Quite well. Examples of recent U.S. efforts include:
These commendable developments are the result of a series of hard decisions that will ensure that the U.S. talks the talk and walks the walk of greater aid transparency and effectiveness.
At the United Nations, President Obama told world leaders: "Understand that America will never retreat from the world." Thanks to these efforts to demystify the allocation of our aid resources, every American citizen, and every global citizen, will be able to find out exactly what our nation's foreign assistance is actually doing and the impact it is making abroad. Used properly, this 1 percent of our budget can be an incredibly strong tool that advances our interests and makes the world a better and safer place. Transparency cannot do all of that alone, but just try achieving our nation's economic, diplomatic, or security goals without it.